One of the weirdest moments of the recent Arizona Republican Party reorganization meeting came when a little old lady rose to address her fellow GOPers from a mic on the floor of the Camelback High School auditorium. On the agenda was a resolution on school vouchers, an issue that seemingly had nothing to do with the issue of immigration.
"We ought to do something about school vouchers not going to illegal aliens," croaked the blue-hair, noting that Catholic parochial schools were the biggest sinners in her eyes. "I know that a lot of money [from vouchers] has gone to illegal alien children."
Arizona Republic Party
In the confusion that followed during the debate on the voucher resolution, Grandma Moses' suggestion was forgotten, seen as a non sequitur, even by those in agreement. The more progressive tuskers rolled their eyes at her comments. But such moderates — a dirty word among the Republican faithful — were generally in the minority.
Indeed, the rank and file of the Arizona branch of Abraham Lincoln's party remains firmly in the grip of a pathological fear of Mexicans. That's one of the main reasons Randy Pullen beat back challenger Lisa James, despite her stack of endorsements from party leaders like state House Speaker Kirk Adams, state Senate President Bob Burns, state Treasurer Dean Martin, and Congressman Jeff Flake.
Young and smart, with a proven track record as a fundraiser and organizer, particularly in her role as executive director of President George Bush's 2004 Arizona re-election effort, James seemed poised to take the mantle from Pullen, whose tenure has been filled with missteps, ideological preening, and a lack of serious fundraising.
In fact, the largest campaign contribution of the most-recent election cycle — $105K from MCSO Captain Joel Fox — is still the subject of controversy and investigation. Many believe, despite Pullen's repeated denials, that the money was illegally earmarked for a slimy campaign ad against Sheriff Joe Arpaio's 2008 rival, Dan Saban, one that charged Saban with masturbating while on duty.
At the meeting, many GOPers — Treasurer Martin, for instance — seemed disgusted by the mere mention of the ad. When this wacky warbler asked Martin early on why he was supporting James over Pullen, Martin let fly.
"Let's just say the party will be much better off when I don't have to turn off the TV or the radio because there's a GOP ad with sexually explicit language in it," he said.
Ice-cold as an undertaker, Pullen later defended the ad to this clucker, claiming it was the turning point in the Saban-Arpaio match-up.
"I spent $65,000 on an ad that ended Saban's run for sheriff," crowed Pullen. "It was like a nuclear bomb and destroyed any chance Saban had."
As for the ongoing fallout from the Fox contribution, Pullen insisted that "nothing will come of it." After all, he gave back the money, so what's the big deal?
But neither the Saban ad nor the Fox scandal ended up as deciding factors in the race for chairman. Rather, it was Pullen's proud nativism and his deft smear of James as being pro-amnesty. Where James preached party unity and inclusiveness, Pullen had no problem breaking Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment by speaking ill of another pachyderm.
"When our U.S. Senate Republican leadership decided it was time to pass a comprehensive immigration bill, hereby giving amnesty to 15 or 20 million illegal aliens in our country," he reminded during his re-election speech, "I said: 'No.'
"I stood up and was counted," said Pullen, later asking, "Where was my opponent? She was praising our congressional leadership for supporting amnesty."
The crowd booed, a sign that what former Republican County Attorney Rick Romley has termed "the new McCarthyism," regarding immigration, is still in full force.
Not surprisingly, after breaking into smaller groups, GOPers then cast their ballots in favor of Pullen, 521 to 474. That's a substantial margin, compared to the last time James and Pullen went toe-to-toe, when Pullen eked out a victory by a mere four votes.
After her defeat, James acknowledged that Pullen had effectively torpedoed her in his address.
"We have some very divided folks in our party on how they feel about [immigration]," she observed. "They're going to have to find some common ground because, unfortunately, the folks that are going to be deciding that now are in charge at the federal level."
Pullen's side also employed some classic Richard Nixon-esque rat-fucking techniques, such as adding an insert to each Republican's packet stating that James had been "endorsed" by New Times, even though that was patently false.
Though this cardinal's colleague Sarah Fenske interviewed James for a blog item, and The Bird's online doppelganger, Feathered Bastard, labeled Pullen (accurately) as being from "the wacky hillbilly wing of the party," New Times didn't endorse either candidate. New Times almost never endorses candidates, giving us the freedom to ream 'em all at a later date.
Wing-nutty GOP activist (and friend to The Bird) Bob Haran approached this avian as the meeting was breaking up and said, "You know what this means? This means the Arizona Republican Party cannot be bought."
Haran was referring to the financial influence of what he sees as the pro-illegal-alien faction of the party. But this beak-bearer sees it differently.
"Nah, Bob," he cracked. "This just means you hillbillies won."
A NEW HOPE
From Camelback High's modest digs, The Bird hopped in his fabulous Thunderbird, and raced down to the Wyndham Hotel, where a revolution was taking place in the venue's tony ballroom. It was a revolution in which the Democratic Party threw off the losing shackles of ex-Governor Janet Napolitano's leadership, gave Chairman Don Bivens a friendly boot, and installed firebrand Tucson Dem Paul Eckerstrom as the donkeys' new jockey.
Not only was this revolution not televised, in the words of Gil Scott Heron, it was totally unexpected. Even to this talon-bearer, who's written incessantly about the Dems' needing to adopt new leadership and a new strategy heading into the darkness of far-right Republican dominance of Arizona.
The Bird had pecked at this problem after the debacle of the 2008 local elections, in which the Dems ended up losing seats in the state Legislature, bucking a national trend that elevated Barack Obama to the presidency. AZ Dems under Bivens, and his second-in-command, executive director Maria Weeg, squandered the momentum, as well as a million-dollar-plus lead in fundraising over GOPers.
The Bird urged Bivens to whack Weeg as a statement that the mistakes of 2008 wouldn't be repeated. These mistakes included not assisting Dan Saban and not focusing all the Dems' resources on Nappy's buddies, like Tim Nelson, who was vying for Death Star commander Andrew Thomas' position as county attorney. The Bird wanted Nelson to win, of course, but he also wanted the Dems to take the state House, as had been promised by Bivens.
The Dems' fat wallets aside, they didn't go for broke with a 30-legislative district strategy mirroring the winning 50-state strategy of ex-chairman of the Democratic National Committee Howard Dean. The state leadership cherry-picked faves and ignored many Dems who were putting their fannies on the line to challenge entrenched Repubs.
Yet, the day before the Dems state party meeting, it looked as though Bivens would be re-elected sans opposition, though many party activists were dissatisfied, disillusioned, and damn angry over the fact that the state GOP was in control and looking to eviscerate education funding. The only name that had been floated earlier was former Pima County Chair Eckerstrom. But the month before, Eckerstrom had told this winged terror he wasn't planning on challenging Bivens, because his home was in Tucson, where he works for the Pima County Public Defender's Office, and he didn't want to move to party headquarters in Maricopa County.
Several politicos and activists encouraged Eckerstrom to run, including Dan O'Neal, head of the Arizona chapter of the Progressive Democrats of America, and Todd Landfried, host of Nova M's tres lefty Desert Politics radio show. New Corporation Commission member Sandra Kennedy, also urged him to go for it.
Eckerstrom, upset over GOP-proposed budget cuts and the Republicans' laying the blame for the budget mess at the Dems' door, announced his candidacy that a.m. He later informed this egret that he didn't think he would win.
Careful what you wish for. Though Bivens had been nominated by none other than Attorney General Terry Goddard, Bivens went down in flames, 324 to 255. The audience rose, cheering in response, and Bivens graciously gave away his seat to the incoming chairman.
"I feel a little bit like Robert Redford in The Candidate," joked Eckerstrom from the podium, "who after winning [a Senatorial campaign in the film] said, 'So what do we do now?'"
The Pima County Dem promised a "15-county" strategy, a move away from Maricopa County-centric politics (he doesn't plan to move to Phoenix from Tucson, he told this tweeter), and a unified party message in 2010.
Regarding Weeg, and whether she will get the ax, Eckerstrom stated that he was going through an "evaluative process" and hadn't decided yet. As for why he won, he opined that his fellow Dems were ready for a more aggressive tact.
"I think people were looking for the party to take more leadership in issues dealing with the budget," he said. "And quit having the Republicans blame us for the budget deficit they created with 20 years of tax cuts."
The party's direction was off in the last election, he noted. Dems wanted a change. As far as doing fundraising from Tucson instead of the capital, Eckerstrom didn't see that as a problem.
"I believe if we give people something to vote for, then we'll do well in fundraising," he asserted.
Hopefully Eckerstrom's election means the D's will get scrappier, ornerier even. They'll need to, if they plan to head off the trunk-swingers in 2010.
The Bird had such a blast covering both state reorganization meetings on the same day that he wishes he could do it every weekend. One contrast between the two mini-conventions, each required by state law, was that the Dems either dressed like they were going to a cocktail party or to a backyard barbecue. The Republicans, on the other hand, always dress like they're going to Sunday school, in strictly off-the-rack attire.
This partisan pelican often lights into GOPers, but he'll give 'em one thing: They know how to take a joke. Pullen had read a blog post by The Bird's online cousin, Feathered Bastard, who referred to Pullen as "a withered old nativist prune-face." Still, the chairman didn't blow The Bird off. He answered the questions put to him, commenting sarcastically, "I can't wait to see what you write about this one."
Outside, as folks milled about, Panama-hatted political consultant Constantin Querard defended Pullen on the notorious Saban ad, arguing that it was a fair hit.
"Fair hit?" squawked this sapsucker. "Are you telling me you've never masturbated before?"
"On the government clock?" he quacked. "Is that a payroll question or a timing question?"
Nearby was Nickel Bag Joe, holding court with a Pullen sticker on his sweater, natch. Joe, whose nose could rival W.C. Fields' in bulbousness these days, played at dodging this dove, then relented. The Bird asked our clownish top constable when the next anti-immigrant sweep was coming.
"I heard you almost got arrested in the last one," Arpaio said, avoiding the question. "Heard you were interfering with some of my deputies."
"Last time I checked, Joe, it wasn't against the law to observe cops out in the open," this sparrow spat. "And, by the way, why do they have to wear ski masks to pull people on traffic violations?"
"That's so you don't take their picture," he winked.
The Bird asked how Arpaio's G. Gordon Liddy, Captain Joel Fox, was going to come up with $315K if he ends up getting fined for the illegal contribution to the state GOP. Did the sheriff have a slush fund? Maybe some pink underwear money?
"Aw, I don't know anything about that," he waved, walking away.
"Gee, Joe, you might have to sell one of those secret plots of land you own. You know, one of the ones [former New Times columnist] John Dougherty wrote about way back?"
"Now you're getting personal, Bird," he warned, waving his finger, shuffling off.
Later, this pelican got to shake hands with Pinal County Sheriff and Republican Paul Babeu, who single-handedly ended Redflex's radar tyranny in his county, and GOP Representative Sam Crump, whose bill to end photo enforcement is chugging through the Legislature.
Also on hand was Candy Thomas' slithery Gollum-like aide Barnett Lotstein, spying for his master, no doubt (though he claimed not to be). On the other end of the food chain, this avian got to hobnob with state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, a classy, thoughtful fellow who aims to take on Candy when they both run for the AG's office in 2010.
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Sleepy-eyed Congressman Trent Franks made the scene, too, though he remained neutral on the James/Pullen bout. Even Governor Jan Brewer showed up briefly, albeit too briefly for The Bird to lob any queries her way.
The Dems' wingding was more wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am. But this avian did pal around a bit with former county attorney hopeful Gerald Richard, now with the AG's office, and Jeff Farias, whose indie online talk show continues to be popular with local liberals.
As mentioned, the Jackie Brown of Zona politics, Corporation Commish Sandra Kennedy was in the house, looking magnificent as always. And before Bivens went down for the count, the outrageous oriole chatted with executive director Weeg, who admitted that there had been "talks" between Bivens and her as to whether she'd be staying on. Weeg was literally biting her nails as the vote took place. And as soon as Eckerstrom took his seat as the new chair, she was up on the dais, whispering into his ear at length.
Thing is, if Bivens had cut her loose before the meeting, there probably would've been no challenge to begin with. That Weeg's got glue on her heels! Or wears the right perfume. Or something.